The first few days in South Africa were a barrage of experiences. I fell in love with the belly laugh of my Uncle Jock and felt at home in his warm presence. He wandered me around in his back garden showing me his strawberries (that I devoured), cape gooseberries (that I had never seen before, let alone eaten) and other plant life. He loved his fruit, eating several pieces every day after dinner and I was introduced to paw paws (like papaya) and oranges like I had never tasted before. They were so sweet and juicy! The food did not stop there. My Aunt Elsa was a lovely woman that cooked new and intriguing dishes for me to discover. I tried skulpakie (liver wrapped in fat and braaied), rooi hakskeentjies (translation: small red heels - pickled onion dish), home-made rusks(dried crusts of bread), bobotie (curried meatloaf with egg topping), brawn (gelatinous curried sandwich meat made of calf’s heels and pig’s trotters) and of course was introduced to a braai (a barbecue on a specially built outdoor hearth where a coiled sausage was the headliner amongst several other meats).
Not only did I have food to discover, but a whole new language to discern; Afrikaans. I thrilled at this new language and tried to take baby steps at learning words of objects around me.
“Chicken - hoender. Meat – vleis. Katjie- kitten. Hond- dog.” I stated.
“Een, Twee, drie… One, Two, Three,” I intoned to the mirth of watching relatives.
“Dankie,” I beamed to their claps. “Baie dankie”
Yes, thank you. Thank you very much. My pronunciation was horrible. They were happy to teach me about their culture and world though. Initial introductions were filtered through a foggy brain, but I was keen to learn as much as I could. I took notes on pronunciation. I read books written by local authors, including one relative Uys Krige. I plotted out a family tree to help me figure out who I was meeting and how they were related to me (the first day alone I met 2 aunts, my uncle, my cousin, her husband and one of their children). I listened to tales of my relative’s adventures while visiting in Canada many years before. I shared tales of my own of my country, culture and familiar family that was so far away. And of course I asked questions, questions and more questions. It was exhilarating. It was also exhausting. I made it to 7:30pm the first night and slept straight through to 10:30am the next morning. It is a wonder I had the strength to breathe, I was so tired.
After about a week in the country, I slowly got over my jet lag. I added another uncle, cousin, her spouse and two children, and another second cousin Francoise to my list of relatives. I ventured out on my own one morning for a walk to the store and took my life in my hands attempting to cross the street. Again I was confounded by transit driving on the other side of the road. Look right, look left, look right, start to cross, and jump back as a car approaches with haste from the wrong direction. It took a lot of getting used to. The experience was empowering though and set me on a path for the independent travel that was to come.
I also continued to experiment with new food and slowly began to regret it. One too many cumquats pushed me over the edge. The first tentative soft bowels were soon replaced by a full-on case of Traveller’s Trots. It had nothing to do with poor sanitation or contaminated water. It had everything to do with my love of new foods and lack of forethought by ingesting mass amounts of fruit to a body still thinking it was going into the hibernation of winter. Nothing stayed in me and I dropped over ten pounds in less than a week. My aunt fretted that my mother would be horrified by their lack of care of me in such a short time. As I pushed away dried toast and desperately tried to keep down sips of water, I thought again about what a journey I was on. The sounds of bubbles shifting around in a tummy racked in digestive distress did not celebrate the adventure I heralded. This too would pass.